For Mountaineer fans, a 31-0 victory over Coastal Carolina was the perfect start to the opening weekend of the college football season. But for those Mountaineer fans who made it beyond the front of the sports page on Monday morning, the small news note that former WVU quarterback Pat White, had been released by the Miami Dolphins on Saturday and passed through waivers unclaimed on Sunday, left a bitter taste.
In 2009 White was selected number forty-four overall by the Miami Dolphins, a somewhat surprising selection according to many NFL insiders. White was an undersized quarterback who had quietly made it known that he intended to make it in the league at this position, despite the desire by many executives around the NFL to take advantage of his athleticism on special teams and at the wide receiver position. At the time, the Dolphins offense was best known for running the “wildcat” formation and other assorted offensive gimmicks to compensate for their weak armed starting quarterback, Chad Pennington. In White, the organization believed that they had found a dynamic weapon that could be utilized with great success in that attack.
But oh what a difference a year makes. The release of White only one season into his pro career sends two very different messages. From a personnel standpoint, the release makes perfect sense for Miami. Last season, 2008 second round pick Chad Henne, showed the promise of a franchise NFL quarterback when he took the helm in early October. At 6’3” 230 lbs, Henne fits the mold of the prototypical NFL quarterback. During the off season the Dolphins reaffirmed their belief in Henne when they traded for disgruntled All-Pro wide receiver Brandon Marshall, sending a clear signal that they have faith in the ability of their young starting quarterback to get the ball down field. From a talent perspective, it makes NFL general managers wonder if White is even capable of playing in the league. Simply pulling the plug on a second round pick only one season into his pro career, casts an ominous shadow of doubt about a player’s abilities.
For Pat White and the Mountaineer faithful who fell in love with him over his four years as WVU’s quarterback, the development is a sad one. The WVU and Big East records books are littered with the accomplishments of White, who finished his career as the all-time NCAA leader in rushing yards from the quarterback position. In four years as WVU’s starting quarterback, White twice finished in the top ten in Heisman Trophy voting, and led the Mountaineers to four straight bowl victories, something never before done by a Division one quarterback.
But as good a football player as Pat White the WVU quarterback was, it was Pat White the young man that the WVU faithful will forever treasure. Soft spoken and humble, White was the first to credit coaches for his opportunities, fans and the university for their support, and teammates for WVU victories and his individual accomplishments. After an era of WVU football punctuated by the antics of the late Chris Henry and Adam “Pacman” Jones, White was a breath of fresh air, the face that rejuvenated the program and restored Mountaineer pride. Seemingly with an iron will hidden inside his quiet and slight six foot frame, White often willed the Mountaineers to victory, putting the team on his shoulders as his body was constantly battered by the best of opposing defenses. He was all heart on these occasions, unwilling to let West Virginia lose and earning a new wave of fans with each stunning performance.
And now Pat White stands at a crossroads. His athletic ability has never been in doubt, but the young man who quietly told NFL executives who saw him more as a wide receiver and return man to move along must make a decision. Will he choose to remake himself into the mold of Hines Ward, Joshua Cribbs, or Brad Smith, the man whose career rushing record he surpassed? Will he follow in the footsteps of his younger brother Coley, who this past year made the difficult decision to give up his dream of becoming WVU’s quarterback to switch to wide receiver, as that presented his best opportunity to see the field? Or will he perhaps revisit baseball, drafted on multiple occasions, it was a career he put on hold as he pursued his football dreams. At this point, only time will tell.
Regardless of his direction, Pat White will be moving on from South Beach. As is often the case for all of us, one year removed from college he faces career choices that will help to shape his life. And on an otherwise perfect West Virginia weekend, that’s a bittersweet thought. One thing can be assured though, wherever the road leads Pat White, Mountaineer fans everywhere will rooting for him to succeed, just as they did on so many fall Saturdays.